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'Record majority' in California backs same-sex marriage, poll finds

February 28, 2013 |  8:35 am

A same-sex marriage proponent holds a gay marriage pride flag in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 30, 2012. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

As state officials make their case for gay marriage, a new Field Poll showed record support in California for same sex unions.

California A.G. backs gay marriage in Supreme Court brief "By a nearly two-to-one margin (61% to 32%), California voters approve of allowing same-sex couples to marry," according to the poll. This represents a complete reversal in views about the issue from 1977, when the Field Poll conducted its first survey on the topic, and is the highest level of support ever measured by the poll.

The poll noted that in 1977 only  28% approved of gay marriage while 59% disapproved. In 2006, it had 44% approval and 50% disapproval.

DOCUMENT: Read the amicus brief

On Wednesday, California’s top law enforcement officer told the U.S. Supreme Court that Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage should be overturned because its sole purpose was to “strip loving relationships of validation and dignity under the law,” according to an amicus brief.

In a friend of the court brief, California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris also argued that the proponents of Proposition 8 — California's voter-approved measure limiting marriage to a man and a woman — did not have legal standing to appeal the federal district court decision that overturned the 2008 ballot measure.

After years of litigation in lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments about the constitutionality of the ban next month. The court could decide whether the Constitution's promise of equal treatment gives gays and lesbians a right to marry. But the justices also left themselves the option to rule narrowly or even to duck a decision.

TIMELINE: Gay marriage chronology

Harris said that ProtectMarriage, the sponsor of the ban, lacked standing under federal law because it wasn’t hurt by same-sex marriage and had no authority to enforce laws. State officials have refused to defend Proposition 8 and did not appeal a district court judge’s 2010 ruling that found the measure unconstitutional.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found ProtectMarriage had standing but also decided last year that the measure was unconstitutional. The appeals court ruled 2-1 that a majority may not take away a minority's rights without legitimate reasons.

Even if the high court agrees that ProtectMarriage has standing, the court should strike down the ban because it served no valid state purpose, Harris’ office argued.

“The fact that same-sex couples cannot conceive a biological child is not a legitimate reason to deny them civil marriage,” the attorney general argued. “A biological distinction is not alone sufficient to satisfy the Equal Protection Clause; rather, that difference must be related to some legitimate governmental interest.”

The argument by backers of Proposition 8 that it promotes California’s interest in having a child reared by a man and a woman “falsely assumes that California law prefers children to be raised by their biological parents,” the brief said.

“The state’s interest in protecting children, including the over 40,000 children in California being raised by same-sex parents, is poorly served by allowing so many of them to grow up feeling inferior because their family unit is not validated and honored by law,” Harris argued.

It continued: "California’s interests in protecting all of its children — and their basic dignity and understanding of fairness and justice — are best served by allowing same-sex couples to enjoy the same benefits of marriage as opposite-sex couples."

The Field Poll was conducted Feb. 5-17 among 834 registered California voters. The poll said that in order to cover a broad range of issues and minimize voter fatigue, some of the questions were asked of a random subsample of 415 registered voters.


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Photo: A same-sex marriage proponent holds a gay marriage pride flag in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 30, 2012. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images